IT WASN'T SO LONG AGO that a woman who wanted to keep her surname after she married had to go to the absurd length of getting a judge's permission. And, until the mid-1970s, some states required women who were divorced or widowed to get court approval before they could use their own surnames again.
Doesn't it sound terribly retrograde? So Helen Reddy, circa 1972? Yet it turns out California has been stuck in a time warp -- not when it comes to women taking their husbands' names but husbands taking their wives' names.
These men have to jump through bureaucratic hoops once reserved for women who bucked the system. They must pay $320, file a petition, advertise a public notice of their intentions and get a court's permission. As for women who take their husbands' names, they just pen in their new last names on the marriage license application.
This seems like a truly creative form of chauvinism -- penalizing men for making a sacrifice we normally demand of women. More likely, it's just a bureaucratic oversight.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed suit against the state in federal court last week on behalf of a Southern California couple, Mike Buday and Diana Bijon, who had planned to use her name after they wed. In the suit, the ACLU argues that the difficulty Buday faces in changing his name to his wife's violates the Constitution's equal protection clause.
This case should not waste the court's time. The ACLU says the California Department of Health Services, which is named as a defendant in the suit, can create an administrative fix. If so, it should. Either the state "fines" men and women alike, or it should fine no one.